How to Make Patent Drawings in SOLIDWORKS
I’ve always been fascinated with patents. As a youngster, I remember seeing a patent framed at my grandfather’s house—it’s value reflected by its position right next to the family portrait. I never read the words, except for the inventor name and patent title; instead, I only looked at the illustrations.
I think those high school history lessons that involved crazy inventors like Nikola Tesla, George Eastman and Philo Farnsworth are part of what inspired me to become an engineer, and I’ve always found it intriguing to see a patent drawing next to the working product. It seemed like you could interpolate from the invention to the drawing, and right into the mind of the inventor.
The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. Patents generally aren’t short on words, and those words are generally confusing, intimidating and unattractive to the layman. So, it might be better said that the drawings and illustrations are the beauty and magic of patents.
It’s also a good gateway into the intellectual property world for SOLIDWORKS users. I’ve been able to help design several products, and SOLIDWORKS is what got me into patent game. I was a CAD jock in the toy business, and would work on making other people’s ideas into a tangible product (see Figure 2).
When top management would make the decision to patent something, I would get a meeting request from a lawyer who would describe all the different drawing views he would need. While Mattel had a huge staff of lawyers, they also had a timeline and a budget. Most of the time, the lawyers would send my .dxf files out to a third party patent drawing vendor. A few lawyers would ask for revisions so that the drawings would meet the criteria from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which meant I would make the final drawings.
If you’re reading this article, you have either been asked to make some drawings, or you’re trying to save a few bucks as you develop your own patent and product. Since patent drawings are usually about $100 each, and most patents take 10+ drawings, this can be significant savings. If you are making drawings for someone else, it’s a great gateway into the intellectual property world. If you are trying to make your own patent, you’re in for a ride.
I will say that if you follow the directions in this article, your patent shouldn’t get rejected for your illustrations. In my 15+ years of intermittent patent involvement, none of my drawings have been rejected by the USPTO.
Since this article is for SOLIDWORKS users, we’re only going to talk about drawings for products or machines; we won’t be covering illustrations for plants or processes, or anything that requires color. If you need to go a bit deeper or to understand topics that aren’t covered, I’d suggest reading How to Make Patent Drawings: A Patent It Yourself Companion by Jack Lo and David Pressman.
Patents represent an intimidating but intriguing intersection of several disciplines and motivations. The government wants to promote and protect inventors without stifling the market, businesses want to make money and gain a monopoly and scientists want to see new ideas come to life. The opportunity, money and emotions are at high levels, and discussions can range from the physical nuts-and-bolts to the abstract concept of defining innovation.
It’s a bit daunting, but also exciting to be involved in this different world. Patent lawyers sometimes get a bad reputation, but it is actually quite fun to interact with them. They tend to be very similar to engineers and designers—pragmatic, passionate, focused, sharp and hardworking. We tend to be a bit envious of their impromptu speaking skills, and I think they tend to be a bit covetous of our opportunity to get our hands dirty and make new products. We appreciate someone technical trying to understand our ideas,and they enjoy the opportunity to add value to a company.
A counter-argument I’ve heard from some engineers is that they would rather focus on developing other skills than learn about patents. However, I’ve found that knowing a little bit can help you a good deal. It’s just like knowing some basic mechanics before you get car maintenance. If you show that you know a little bit about any trade (such as plumbing, car maintenance or home repair), I think you tend to have a better interaction than someone who is completely ignorant on the subject.
Tip #1: Read a Book or Two About Inventors
Stories about invention are fascinating to study. One of my favorites is The Wright Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. Then go enjoy studying 25 or so patent illustrations; you can look up a complete patent on Google Patents.
I’d suggest making about half of these the classic inventions, such as the Light Bulb, Telegraph and Ferris Wheel. For the other half, take a look at a dozen recent patent figures in the industry you are going to make figures for.
This serves a couple purposes. One, you need to develop a love for studying patent drawings. Some of the ones that were made on drafting boards before the age of CAD are unreal art pieces. Of course, others can look like they’re done in crayon with the drafter using their non-dominant hand. There is a wide range of quality, and it’s difficult to know how some were approved by the USPTO (especially if you are exposed to some of the more trifling rejections).
However, within an industry there seems to be some level of consistency. My hypothesis is that the USPTO examiners are grouped by industry, and that those teams train each other and develop their own set of rules within the organization. For example, my experience is that the toy industry allows almost anything, while the industrial access hardware industry was a little more stringent (see Figures 3 and 4). This makes sense, because toys tend to be a bit more fashion-based, while hardware seems to be a bit more mechanical/mechanism driven.
Tip #2: Get the Right Mindset
There are several things I don’t understand, and rules that don’t seem to make sense or that have published counter examples.
For example, from the best I can understand, typical patent illustrations—called figures—need to be in black and white, not greyscale. However, I’ve seen a number of figures that appear to have some sort of greyscale shading.
If this inconsistency bothers you, then you may not want to get involved with Patent Figures. Trying to get a patent is like visiting another country—you need to follow their rules and appreciate their customs. If you don’t, it’s not going to be enjoyable for anyone. It’s like asking for ketchup at a small but classic restaurant in France. They will be insulted, you’ll be frustrated, efforts will be squandered and the experience will be negative.
It’s much better to embrace the rules that the USPTO has by taking on a “when in Rome…” mindset. Better yet, try to understand the history behind patent figures. The USPTO has an incredible mission: they must come up with rules, regulations and definitions for ideas. It’s an impossible task, but they do a pretty good job.
Tip #3: Follow the Rules to Avoid Rejection
Tips 3 and 4 are serious. I’ve seen and heard about “Office Actions”—essentially, a rejection of a patent application—resulting from not following these rules.
Make your drawing template a vertical 8.5 x 11 inches. Don’t have any border lines and leave plenty of margin (see Figure 6). Only put one view per page. Also, don’t have any default shading or tangent lines (see Figure 7).
I know some inventing entities put multiple figures on one page and do greyscale shading, but my suggestion is to play it safe. It doesn’t cost more to have multiple pages of illustrations. I’d also suggest that you go to the USPTO website and read what they have to say about drawing requirements.
To remove the tangent lines on your figure:
- Select your view, and press your Right mouse button.
- Check on to “Tangent Edges Removed.”
Tip #4: Line Weight and Balloons
Change your line weight (see Figures 8 and 9) and do not put circles, or anything else, around your balloons (see Figure 10).
To change your line weights on your drawing:
- Select Options.
- Under “Document Properties” select “Line Font.”
- Select “Line weight” of 0.0197”.
Tip #5: Make Balloon Lines “Squiggly”
These next three tips aren’t mandatory, but I think they’re important to help avoid too much scrutiny from the USPTO. If you decide not to follow tips 5, 6 and 7, it can signal to the examiners that amateurs have made the patent—and the examiner will not give you the benefit of the doubt.
Tip #5 is to make the balloon lines squiggly. Around 2014, Dassault made this easy to do in SOLIDWORKS. I used to have to float the balloon and add a spline with an arrow. Now, it’s pretty simple (see Figure 11).
Tip #6: Make Your Drawing Look More Like a Sketch
I’m still playing around with this, and haven’t yet submitted any drawing for patent like this—but I want to. Bring into Microsoft Word, Photoshop or Illustrator and play with different filters.
Tip #7: Develop Your Style!
Take some time and put the extra details in. This will be something that will eventually go up on your wall to be envied by your friends and admired by your grandkids. Many times, I allowed myself to be rushed into sending the figures to the lawyers because I was pressed for time or had other projects. One area that is wide open is the font for the figure numbering (see Figure 13). You can find something online, or make your own.
Please let me know how it goes and if you have any comment or other experiences.
About the Author
Jim Lucas is product development consultant who enjoys running, coaching soccer and playing with fire. He can be reached at Jim.Lucas@i-elf.com.